Food for Thought

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Health-by-design at the festive table
The holiday season is rapidly approaching and chief cooks in households around the world are starting to think about what festive fare to serve family and friends (of course the better organised ones have already made the Christmas puddings, mince pies and cakes). Serving the special foods that are part of your cultural traditions is part of the ritual and something everyone looks forward to. In my family, ensalada rusa (Spanish potato salad) will always be on the buffet table along with other traditional Spanish and Aussie Christmas fare. It’s all so tempting, it’s hard not to overfill your plate …

The big problem these days with our festive fare is that the holiday season seems to have spread way beyond that special Christmas eve dinner or Christmas lunch with parties and celebrations galore, each vying for your eating affections. However each time you overload your system with excessive food, it’s akin to metabolic assault: your blood becomes milky with fat (post-prandial lipaemia); glucose, insulin levels and inflammatory hormones rise; your blood vessels become less flexible (called endothelial dysfunction) and your blood becomes more likely to clot (or pro-thrombotic). Unfortunately for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, these adverse effects are worse.

ensalada rusa

And did you know that rather than signalling the body to ease-off at subsequent meals, huge meals can actually increase appetite for the next meal perpetuating a vicious cycle of overeating (people often say their stomach has stretched). It’s no wonder hospital emergency rooms experience a rush of cardiac patients on Christmas and Boxing Day.

Surely it’s time to move on? The planet can no longer sustain such excess and our physical health is suffering as a result. Not to mention the moral affront of gluttony in a world where there is so much hunger, plus the environmental disaster of food waste.

  • If you are catering, be bold in offering healthier options and cook the right quantities to avoid waste. Don’t pressure guests to eat more than they need.  
  • If you’re on the receiving end of pressure to eat more than you want to, be kind but assertive. Your health and comfort need not suffer to please others. 

Of course, many of the adverse effects of overeating can be reversed by exercise, but it’s hard to throw a ball around when you’ve fallen into a postprandial stupor and can’t get out of your chair. Perhaps the best test of eating the right amount is having some get-up-and-go a few hours after getting up from the table? Some research conducted by Professor Brian Wansink from Cornell University might help. He found that placing the healthy items first on the buffet table helped diners fill their plates first with these better choices. I’m sure we could all could utilise a little health-by-design at our festive table to steer our guests towards more of the good stuff as well.

Sincere best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy festive season.

Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author and consultant who strives to make healthy food taste terrific. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or checkout her website